Richard Fox began his career writing espionage thrillers, but after four books, he switched to military scifi and is now a top-ranked Amazon Author. This week, we talk about why he switched genres and how that move paid off for him.
A graduate of West Point, Richard served two tours with the U.S. Army in Iraq in field artillery and intelligence. After the Army, he worked as an intelligence contractor, but says working as a contractor meant unemployment was always on the horizon.
At the time, Richard had written some screenplays and gotten some attention in contests when he discovered Joe Konrath in the Fall of 2013.
“I saw Joe Konrath’s blog, and I thought, hey, here is this path to writing for a living, and it doesn’t involve all the gatekeepers that screenplays did.”
So he spent 8 months writing Into Darkness (Eric Ritter Spy Thriller Book 2), and released it in January of 2014, along with a free prequel titled The Caliban Program (Eric Ritter Spy Thriller Book 1). Richard followed up with Book 3 in January 2015 and Book 4 in April 2015, but says he wasn’t doing that great.
Richard lamented this fact to Russell Blake on Facebook, who suggested he try writing in a different genre. He says a light went on at the suggestion. He was a huge Star Wars fan and enjoyed science fiction, so he stopped work on his current book and started writing the first book of The Ember War Saga.
Spy Thriller vs. Military Scifi
Richard announced his new military scifi novel The Ember War (The Ember War Saga Book 1) to his mailing list of 300 spy thriller readers and was pleased to note a corresponding bump in sales, enough to make the book more discoverable and keep it in the rankings. Three weeks later, following organic growth and great reviews from new readers, he enjoyed his first 100-sales day. And from there, it kept going.
By the time The Ruins of Anthalas (The Ember War Saga Book 2) came out, Richard had decided to give full-time writing a go. His employment contract had ended in Arizona, and so he and his family decided to move to fabulous Las Vegas. The Ruins of Anthalascame out the day before they left Arizona, but by the time they had arrived in their new hometown, it was racing up the charts.
Now Richard’s got six books out in The Ember War Saga, with three more planned, and he is a top 100 Amazon author in his categories.
Why such a difference in sales between his spy thrillers and military scifi?
Richard points out that while the espionage thriller genre is crowded with authors and books, military scifi is much more underserved given that there are two major publishers of military scifi that don’t publish their ebooks on Amazon (or very few titles) and there are only a handful of writers in the field.
Promotion and Pricing
Although it was mostly organic growth that got his series going, Richard says it’s promotions that keep it going.
He uses Facebook ads to drive direct sales, which he says typically costs him 6 to 8 cents a click. He also runs giveaways and contests giving fans a chance to get red-shirted in one of his books. Bknights on Fiverr is another promotional tool he likes to use in launches.
Richard notes that the Amazon email announcements that are sent out to his Amazon followers when a new book comes out are big and drive a considerable amount of traffic.
To encourage mailing list sign-ups, he offers two subscriber-exclusive short stories as reader magnets.
Richard says he touches his email list about once a month to stay in touch with his readers, tending to alternate an update email with a new release announcement every month.
Even though he launched his spy thriller series with a perma-free Book 1, Richard notes that the permafree loss leader strategy isn’t a convention that’s used much in military scifi, so all of his books are full-priced. Given that readers don’t expect a zero-priced entry into a series, he’s able to earn full royalties on all the books in that series.
His most powerful marketing tool, however, is his prolific output thanks to Amazon’s algorithms:
“I live in terror of the algorithms. They are a cruel mistress. If you can put out a book every 60 to 90 days, Amazon will reward you with visibility and helping you reach new readers. If you fall off that 90-day cliff, it gets a lot harder. So I try to keep my books out every 60 to 90 days…preferably 60, if not faster. That way I feed the beast and my readers don’t forget me.”
Advice to Authors Starting Out:
Persist, Richard says, because he did not succeed for a good year and a half. It took a lot of books, he says, and he credits a lot of his success to Russell Blake being so kind as to say, Why don’t you try another genre? Thanks to that sage advice, Richard kept going and found his niche.
Richard also credits Nick Stephenson’s video-training program Your First 10,000 Readers, which he used to set up an infrastructure designed to capture readers’ emails and develop a community with them.
- Set up your infrastructure. Yep, that means ye olde mailing list. (You’ve heard this advice before!) Whether you use a premium training course like Your First 10,000 Readers, or you set up something on your own, it’s crucial to your future success as an author to have a system in place to capture your readers’ emails so that you can build relationships and communicate with them. Had Richard not done that at the beginning of his publishing career, he wouldn’t have had his “modest” list of 300 spy thriller readers to tell about his new military scifi book, which wouldn’t have resulted in the bump in sales he got, which wouldn’t have boosted his book’s discoverability, which wouldn’t have gotten the book in front of new readers’ eyes…etc. So set up that mailing list. Your future author self thanks you.
- Follow yourself on Amazon. You know that little yellow bar below your author photo on your author page that says, “+ Follow”? Click it. That way you’ll know when Amazon’s putting out promotional emails for your books…and when they’re not. When Richard put out his third book in The Ember War Saga, he noticed that he didn’t get an email announcement and so was able to follow up with Amazon about it.
- Write a story in another genre. If you’re struggling with your current sales and you’ve got all your bases covered in terms of professional presentation, editing, cover, etc., consider trying another genre. Even if it doesn’t lead you down the bestselling path to a new genre, chances are it will freshen your perspective and skills as a writer.
Have you switched genres in your writing career? If so, what genres were they, and how did the switch affect your career? Would you do it again?
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